Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Life in the Snow

In keeping with much of the UK, the weather paid havoc in Southampton yesterday and for much of today. In my position as the Cabinet Member for Environment & Transport, I have been something of an eye-witness as well as being the Administration's press spokesman and political lead.
Given that, I thought it might be interesting to record for posterity what the Highways Team have been up at Southampton City Council and reflect on the implications of the weather generally.
The city's 5 gritting vehicles were out last night, starting at about 10pm salting the roads, again in the early hours (about 3am), and again late morning. The Operational Manager was at Town Depot shortly after 0600hrs, and by 0700hrs every available flatbed lorry was loaded with grit and despatched with teams of men to high priority pedestrian areas across the City. Open Spaces vehicles were similarly loaded and their teams despatched. In truth, this operation genuinly runs with military precision and the efforts of those involved are never found to be wanting. The work ethic of some of the guys I've encountered is amazing and we are talking hard physical work here. In total, the council spread around 80 tons of grit on roads and footways today.
The operational approach is always to deal with known priorities first and then respond to as many reactive calls as we possible can. In this way we exercise control over the situation and work more efficiently. This winter has been unusual in that Southampton, and elsewhere on the South Coast, saw ‘sheet ice’ conditions for the first time in 15 years. In truth, every footway in the City was dangerous, particularly for the elderly and infirm. In this situation the public have some responsibility for their own safety because it is simply not possible to meet every demand made on the service.
As I write, Southampton City Council has enough rock salt to grit the main A routes in the city this week, should the weather conditions remain extreme. Other roads may well be icy and slippery so the council is urging extreme caution and advising people to only make essential journeys during this time which the majority of the public accept although it would be fair to say that there is a vaciferious minority of less that 5% who consider the situation is outragious. While Southampton City Council is in a better position then many neighbouring authorities, supplies of rock salt at the council’s town depot have been gradually reducing as further deliveries have been delayed and reduced so the council is now prioritising its stocks to the major routes.
The council will be receiving deliveries, albeit reduced, today, Thursday and Friday, from the Salt Union, which faces huge demand for salt from authorities across the country. Operationally, the council tries to keep enough stocks of salt to enable us to cope with more than a week of the worst weather conditions. Salt is normally received from our suppliers within two days but at the moment, the massive national demand has meant that the council’s deliveries have been reduced. As a result, the decision has been made to introduce a reduced salting programme to conserve supplies whilst ensuring that the main roads in the city are kept open for essential vehicles.
The key message then to residents unpalatable as it may be;
Make only essential journeys during this time.


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